Certainly, "Sense8," the Netflix sci-fi opus created by filmmakers Lana and Andy Wachowski and screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski, had a polarizing effect: Although some viewers found themselves too mystified by the storyline, there were just as many who discovered they couldn’t get enough of the globe-spanning storyline and its interconnected cast of characters, binging the series multiple times and picking up fresh details and surprising nuances each time out.
While the streaming service hasn’t officially given the green light to second season, a promising gesture occurred when Netflix hosted a "Sense8"panel during the Television Critics Association summer press tour with cast and creators in attendance, including Straczynski who updated the status of a possible renewal. "We're still awaiting word," he said on stage. "We're in the process. We're waiting for a final determination. We're cautiously optimistic, but ultimately it's Netflix's call."
If the call does come, Straczynski said he and the Wachowskis have already given plenty of thought to the next phase of the "Sense8” universe. “We're looking at expanding that as far as logic goes," he said. "What's kind of fun about the characters is that what they're sharing are not necessarily [powered] – like, in other concepts, which might be superpowers, flight. They have ordinary abilities, and we're trying to say that there is value and merit and power in [that] – whether you're an actor or you are a martial arts person or a bus driver, you have something to contribute."
"The way that the Wachowskis and I tend to work as we created the show together, wrote it together, we are long game kind of people," he added. "We look down the road to say, "OK, we're setting this up now. Where is this going to go?" That doesn't guarantee we're going to go five seasons, but for ourselves, for the writing process, we need to kind of know where we're going, where this all pays off, what this means. So Season 1 is, like, the origin story, Season 2 has its own particular arc. And we've figured it out from there. But to spoil that here would not be in the best interest of the surprises we have in mind."
After the panel, Spinoff Online spent a few more minutes chatting with Straczynski.
Spinoff Online: Did you get a sense of how the audience reacted to your grand plan on how you wanted to unspool the story? Because you knew that it was a slow build – structurally like one massive movie – so did you get a sense that they got that?
J. Michael Straczynski: Yeah, I made a point to watch the online responses after the show went on the air and seeing people sort of go through it. And once you watch it again from the beginning, you see, also in that conversation between Naveen's character and Daryl suddenly isn't weird any more. And you're able to see them figuring it out as they went.
Some people watched the show three, four and five times. We were banking on the fact that on our assumption that not only would people want to go back and see it again, or acknowledge the fact that, if they could, they would watch it again. We didn't realize they would watch it so many times. I mean, literally, we've seen people see it six times now in two months, which is extraordinary.
Did the fan response give you a sense of what they particularly liked and what you might want to lean into more?
More a sense of validation than anything else. When I started watching the process online, I started monitoring the tweets from the moment we went on the air to afterwards. First, it was, "What the hell is this show? What's going on?" And actually, the millennials first locked onto it and it began to become a thing. Were you watching it? Or you weren't about to watch it. Or you haven't watched it. Or it hit. And once that happened, it spread out past the millennials. Having a huge, grassroots movement, we had, like, 200 tweets a minute at one point.
What did you take away from watching the Wachowskis' response to how this played out?
After we did post them, they were over there back in San Francisco and Chicago and back to LA, so I wasn't able to see their actual response in person.
For you, once you got through the first season, what was the creative satisfaction that you walked away with that was different from other stuff you've worked on?
Just knowing that we've done something that no one had ever done before, the scale and the scope of it. I said previously that science fiction hadn't had its "Hill Street Blues" moment yet, where it had not yet matured into a serious genre. And now, we were the first time doing that.
We ran into some bounce-back, the critics who looked at us to be what they expected us to be. No one ever said of "Boardwalk Empire" or "House of Cards," "What's the point of the story? Where are they going with this?" No, we were saying, "This is about the journey, same as those shows. Look at us the same way you look at them."
How big does the "Sense8" universe get if you get to go forward the way you have it planned?
Quite big, yeah.
Do you have a lot of the story pretty much locked down?
A big chunk of it, yeah. We know where we're going.
How interested are you to get the word from Netflix to get going on more?
Very eager, yeah.
Do you feel confident that that's going to happen?
I think so, yeah. Just things happening on the backend that have to be worked out.
You have a lot of history in the comic book world. Would you like some side universe-building that would tie into the show?
I think our main obligation is to do this show properly first. We don't have any intentions at all about comics or novels or anything else. Our goal is to make the show as best as we possibly can.
Is your plate pretty full with TV and film projects, or do you have more comic book projects in the immediate offing?
I'm kind of phasing down the comic stuff a bit. So I'm still working on bringing that down and making room for other stuff.
Was it the Wachowskis' idea that came to you, or your idea that came to them?
I've known them for years; they're friends of mine. We worked together on "Ninja Assassin." And they called and said, "Why don't you come to San Francisco with Lana? It's to figure out something to work on together." I said, "If you want to do television badly, and want something done badly, you come to me. If you want it done well, you go to Joss Whedon." [laughs]. And Lana and I sat down on a weekend in San Francisco, and we're spinning out ideas and thoughts. And came up with the notion for this. And we sort of hammered out the structure over the course of that weekend and working on scripts.
Is there a character in the ensemble that spoke to you more than any of the others?
Yeah, we all kind of had our characters. For Lana, obviously, it was Nomi. There's a lot of me in Wolfgang, which is both good and bad. That's probably the one character I'm most like.
Is your father still alive?
No, he is not. And that was a great day when he died. We had a very bad relationship.
You talked about the headaches of figuring out time zones each character was in – who would be doing what at any given time at any given end of the Earth. How much of that was a real pain and how much became a fun, creative game of problem solving?
Oh, it's both. It's like when you realize it for the first time, it's like, "Oh, crap. Really? How did we miss this?" But then it was fun to figure it out. What makes sports entertaining are the rules. If baseball had no rules, it would be guys hitting balls, running around. What makes it fun is working with those confines. So we always take scene limitations and confines as being part of the fun.
And with this new evolution, are there other clusters out there?
There are other clusters out there. And if there were to be a second season, we might see some of those.
Are all clusters have a species interest in the fact that, “OK, I'm part of a cluster,” or “You're not part of my cluster?” Or are the clusters, “This is my family, but you're not part of my family”?
I think you'll see both. Some will be more species-oriented. Some say, "I'm hiding out. Don't reveal me. I know the value of not being seen." So not all Sense 8s are not naturally good people. Some people might – coming into that ability might not e the best of people. So we're going to play the whole range of it.
You've got another show you're working on, the revival of "Night Gallery."
There's a number of shows that the Syfy channel is considering, and "Night Gallery’s” one of them. I'm also doing "Red Mars" for the Spike network. We'll see how that goes. There's like three or four other shows that I'm working on in various ways.
What did that original show mean to you that got you excited to work on a revival?
It's Rod Serling. I'm a huge Rod Serling fan. "Twilight Zone" is one my favorite shows of all time, and I think any chance I get to live in that world that he created, whether it's "Twilight Zone" which is also one of the projects that I've worked on, or "Night Gallery," I'll take it.